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Carey CoxEleven years ago, Carey Cox packed her belongings and drove 600 miles for a job that paid nothing.

Carey Cox, center, celebrates with coworkers in 2011 after Tampa Bay clinched a playoff berth by winning the final game of the regular season.

Today, the former Clarkton resident is still working with that organization, and, yes, being paid for her efforts. She’s the director of marketing for Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays.

Cox’s rise from unpaid intern to overseeing a department of a Major League Baseball organization didn’t happen overnight — she spent a few weeks early on serving as the front desk receptionist at the club’s offices — and she’s bucked the odds of having to move around the country in order to be promoted.

These days, she’s spending a busy off-season creating ways to promote a team that has often lagged in attendance, been trying to get a new stadium, and undergone loads of changes from the general manager, field manager and several players since the 2014 season ended.

Tampa Bay pitcher Chris Archer and Carey Cox set up for a ticket promotion. Chris Archer & Carey Cox—>
“It’s not easy,” said Cox, who graduated from Bladenboro High School in 2000. “We have a challenging market. It’s a transient area. We have a lot of people there, but we’re not their first allegiance. They grew up as a New York Yankees fan or a Chicago Cubs fan, White Sox fan. We’ve got a lot of baseball fans, but their first allegiance are not generally the Rays.

“The fans we do have are very loyal and invested, and we try to build upon that, and grow it by doing the right things in the community and being innovators,” she said. “One thing about working with a team that might be a little bit short on attendance, they’ll let us try just about anything. It’s got its challenges, but it would be boring if it didn’t.”

Carey-Cox-&-Zimbear<— Carey Cox poses with a “Zimbear” cutout as part of a promotional giveaway.

Cox’s career path in professional sports certainly hasn’t been boring. Starting with the unpaid six-month internship in 2004, she’s spent time with the Rays working in the gift shop, as front desk receptionist, in group sales, as a liaison between sales and marketing, assisted in the communications department, moved to the marketing department in 2006, and became director of marketing in 2012 when the former director left for a job with the NFL’s St. Louis Rams.

“I’ve been very blessed in my time there,” Cox said. “Fortunately, I’ve been able to stay in one place. I knew I didn’t want to chase my career all over the country. It’s been a real fortunate situation.”

Cox knew early on that she wanted a career in sports. She just wasn’t sure where it would take her. While attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she worked for the school’s sports information office, and also had internships with the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Baseball, whose offices are in Cary.

“When I was about to graduate, I pretty much applied to every professional internship I saw online,” said Cox, who graduated from UNC in December 2003 with a degree in journalism and mass communications. “The Rays were the only team that called me. I packed my car up, moved down there for what I thought was going to be for six months, and it will be 11 years in January.

“I had gotten an internship in their corporate marketing department. It was completely unpaid,” she said. “But I did get a job working at the team store, so I would work there nights and weekends to try to make a little bit of money. And I got a lot of help from my parents (Johnny and JoAnn Cox).”

One part of Cox’s job is working with some of the Tampa Bay players in helping to promote the team. One of those players is pitcher Chris Archer, who is from Clayton. “He’s been so great to work with,” Cox said. “He’s just happy to be there. It’s neat seeing that North Carolina connection we have as well.

“We’re not super close to the players, but we do work with them on different projects to help market the team. Our guys have traditionally always been wonderful to work with. Hopefully, they’re not too annoyed when they see me walking down the hall and I’m about to ask them for something.

“It’s been a great experience to be so close to it,” Cox said. “I’ve always been a sports fan and a baseball fan. Being around it every day, my respect for the game and what those guys do has grown so much. It’s a 162 game season and it’s a grind. I don’t feel too sorry for them, but it’s a lot, and they carry that around. It’s one of those sports where the players are really front facing, and the fans know what they look like, and the fans recognize them when they go out. They get a lot of interaction with the fans. Our guys are great about signing autographs pregame or doing different things in the community. All of that helps our efforts from the marketing standpoint quite a bit.”

Along the way, Cox has been part of an organization that played in the World Series in 2008, and she watched in 2011 as Evan Longoria belted a home run in the 12th inning at Tropicana Field that gave the Rays an 8-7 win over the New York Yankees and a playoff berth on the final day of the regular season.

“That was amazing,” Cox said about Longoria’s game-winner. “I will never forget that night and how everything unfolded, and the different places I sat in the ballpark to try to change the luck.

“I still think the most memorable moment has got to be winning the American League Championship Series (in 2008),” she said. “That year we went from worst to first. My parents were able to come down and go to a World Series game with me. That’s something that I don’t think any of us could have really predicted.”

Cox has enjoyed her time with the Rays, and hopes to remain in sports in some capacity in the future.

“If you would have asked me 10 years ago if I would have been here now, I would have said I doubt it,” Cox said. “If you would have asked me five years ago, I would probably have said no. Just because of the landscape in sports and how hard it is to continue to progress.

“I do feel like I’ve been able to be part of something really, really special. And once you get a little taste of that, you wonder where the next big special moment is. It’s kind of like an addiction. Being part of the turnaround (of the Rays) is something that is truly unique.

“I don’t know where my career will take me. I just kind of hang on for the ride,” she said.

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